“I live in the Cube. I write on its glossy gray cinder-block walls however I can – with my nails before, with pencils now that the guards bring me some supplies.
Light comes through the small glass-block window high on the wall, reached only by the many-legged crawling creatures that also reside here. I am fond of the spiders and ants, which have set up separate dominions and manage to avoid each other in our shared nine-square-meter universe.“
So begins Against the Loveless World, and our introduction to Nahr. She’s confined in the Cube, but her mind wanders free. To Bilal, to Kuwait, to Jordan and Palestine. This is her story. But more than that, it is the story of Palestinian refugees, of the people who remained in Palestine, of how they live their lives and how they resist.
As I got to know Nahar, what struck me was her braveness, her clear-eyed assessment of the world, and a woman’s place in a man’s world. One small misstep leads her into the underground life of the rich Kuwaiti man – hidden parties, late night dances, and dalliances with young girls are par for the course in this world.
She was named for the river her pregnant mother crossed when she fled from Palestine, but her feckless father called her Yaqoot, Ruby. For a time when she came of age she was Almas, Diamond, a girl who went to hidden parties in Kuwait with powerful men, who sold off parts of herself to keep her family together. She was a girl who learned, early and painfully, that when you are a second class citizen love is a kind of desperation; she learned, above all else, to survive.
Until the night Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. The Kuwaitis blame the Palestinians for their humiliation, and once the Americans liberate Kuwait, almost the entire Palestinian refugee colony where Nahr lives, including her own family, flees to Jordan to escape the Kuwaiti brutality.
And so Nahar’s life begins anew in Jordan. Soon after, Yaseer Arafat and Israel sign the Oslo Accords, following which Nahr’s brother Jehad manages to get their hawiyyas (residency cards) reinstated. When Nahr eventually makes her way to Palestine, her life takes another turn.
She was a girl who went to Palestine in the wrong shoes, and without looking for it found what she had always lacked in the basement of a battered beauty parlour: purpose, politics, friends. She found a dark-eyed man called Bilal, who taught her to resist; who tried to save her when it was already too late.
But as I got to know Nahr, I kept wondering what she could have done to land up in the Cube. And reading about the conditions in which Palestinians live, with the threat from Israeli soldiers ever looming, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Jews even realize that they have been doing to Palestine what Hitler did to them so long ago. Sure, there are no gas chambers and forced bonded labor, but neither is there any justice or humanity or even an attempt at brokering a lasting peace.
When the reason for Nahr’s imprisonment finally became clear, it felt almost diabolic, raising questions once more on how we define terrorism and how easy it is for a state to crush an individual.
Like Abhulhalwa’s Mornings in Jenin, Against a Loveless World is another important book on Palestine, bringing to light the atrocities being committed on the Palestinians by a bully state.
I think Against the Loveless World is a must read for anyone who is interested in understanding the human cost of occupation and dissent. It’s also an important book on the Israel-Palestine issue, and Susan Abhulhalwa is an author to watch.